East Orange celebrates legendary couple

EAST ORANGE — Tyrone Miles thinks his father first got involved with youth sports because he had three sons and he was looking to keep them busy.

Lew Miles did keep his sons busy, and thousands of other East Orange children, too, creating and managing youth sports programs that lasted more than 30 years.

Backing him up was his wife, Marlene, a nurse, who often found herself cooking for a houseful of children the night before a game.

The city of East Orange recently recognized the late couple, celebrating them by naming a field in Elmwood Park after Lew and the corner of Nassau Place and Carnegie Avenue, where the family lived, in honor of Marlene.

A press release from the city of East Orange described the couple as pillars of the community. As a legendary coach, “Lew” Miles was the founder of the trailblazing Promoting Progress for Youth Program and one of the most revered and influential coaches in the city’s history.

“Marlene Miles was an active community volunteer and a fixture on Carnegie Avenue where she raised her family for more than four decades. During that time, she served as a mother figure to thousands of student-athletes who fell under the tutelage of her husband. Together, the Miles’ played a significant role in the growth, development and enrichment of the children and families of East Orange,” the release said.

Mayor Ted R. Green said the re-namings are fitting for the couple who worked as true partners in uplifting young people.

“There was once a time in East Orange when youth sports and Lew Miles were synonymous. His dedication and commitment to exposing our young people to competitive sports beyond East Orange’s borders put our city and many of our players on the map,” Green said. “Individuals like the Miles’ who go above and beyond to make a difference in this world are what make our community so special. The lives of thousands of children and families were transformed due to the influence of Lew and Marlene Miles and we want to ensure that future generations are inspired by their legacy of giving.”

East Orange native Tracy Munford said his impact on the lives of her brother, Donald, and cousins, the Munfords, Wilkes, Melvins and Olivers, was undeniable in creating a framework for East Orange youth to excel in sports in grammar school through college and beyond.

“He made sports in East Orange a family affair and left an indelible mark on every youth who benefitted from his dedication to the sport and the youth of our city,” Munford said. “East Orange is a better place because of his work.”

Tyrone Miles said his parents were “community service people.” While his mother was a nurse, his father was a police officer with the Port Authority. Lewis died in 1994, while Marlene passed away on April 28.

One of the best lessons his father taught him was that “the greatest gift one can give is time,” said Tyrone, a longtime coach and employee in the Department of Recreation & Cultural Affairs.

The family initially lived on Steuben Street near Oval Park and that’s where Lew Miles met another legendary youth coach, George Crawley, while walking with his sons, looking for something to do.

“I think that’s why he got into coaching. He had to find something for his sons to do,” Tyrone said.

When the family moved to Carnegie Avenue near Elmwood Park, Lew Miles decided to start a program in that neighborhood. The program began with football, but added basketball and eventually became Promoting Progress for Youth. The teams would often travel to other cities, exposing the young athletes to new places.

Former coach and retired East Orange Police Department Capt. Billy Oliver said Lew Miles was a true champion for youth.

“He put his heart and soul into everything that he did for them,” Oliver said. “It can be truly said about him that he let the work he did speak for him.”

Tyrone Miles said his parents never looked for accolades but they would have been pleased at the naming ceremony and dedication, particularly that so many old friends turned out.

“It was a great event,” Tyrone said. “A lot of people who participated in the program turned out. That would have meant the world to both of them.”